Do You Remember The First Time

Posted on August 11, 2010

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 Last week, we birthed this column with a piece called ‘To Inception and Beyond’, which I wrote to remind myself of the simple pleasures of seeing a damn fine film and how it can change my day for the better. Some comments that took place offsite centered around how nice it is for kids to have films like Toy Story 3 as a first moviegoing experience this summer, then continued with people trying to remember the first film they saw in the cinema. This speaks directly to what I had planned for this week’s article, namely, our all important first cinema-going experience and what we remember about it.

 For some of my brother’s friends it was Popeye, or the Empire Strikes Back, maybe Herbie goes to Monte Carlo, but many seemed unsure as to which movie exactly was their first. However, while discussing the issue we soon realize that within peer groups and circles of friends the same movies seem to pop up again and again, which likely means that we shared our first cinema-going experience at an approximate common age, i.e. 6 to 8 years old. For me, this was during the 70s so no VHS, no DVD, no playstation, no movie channels, and although I undoubtedly saw Sunday afternoon films on TV, I can’t begin to remember any movie I saw before that first time in the cinema. I have no idea what appealed to me, scared me, made me cry, none of it.

 If 1978 was my first time at the cinema then what were the options open to my parents? Considering I was a 7 year old boy with no idea that this decision was even being made, and therefore had zero input into the exercise, what could my first film have been? Showing at various times that year were Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, The Rescuers, Viva Knievel, and, Smokey and the Bandit(!), but none of these took my filmic flower. We have no input into the choice of our first film because, let’s face it, it’s a parent thing. It’s either some social statement they are finally ready to make or a desperate desire to get out for a few hours as a family; either way, as a child you get much more input into your second film. That’s the one you agitate for once the bug has bitten and that’s the one that brings on the tantrums. For me and my parents the standoff lasted right up until thirty minutes before the last showing on Saturday evening, at which point they caved in and Dad had to bring me to my second movie…Superman.

 But what was my first film? Well, unlike some people, I seem to remember everything about this experience. Saturday evening, probably winter because it was dark entering the Ritz cinema at 6:30pm. The cartoons they played as shorts before the main feature were like those at home on TV, the opening titles of the movie were animated so familiar territory also; the music, however, was very, very funky, and very quickly, everything boiled down to one word. And that word my friends, was Grease. Sparkling colours, pumping music, the tightest of skinny jeans, some singing, some dancing, a kiss, another song a final dance and it was all over. I remember thinking afterwards that so much time had passed that maybe the bloody Late Late Show would be over and for once I would be allowed to watch Match of the Day, but no such luck. It was barely 8:30, hardly two hours had passed on those darkened seats and we got home just in time for my bedtime. So my greatest disorientation at the hands of Grease seems to have been one of the passing of time.

Greater disorientations were to follow in the coming weeks, Grease songs were perpetually number one on Top of the Pops, Grease posters were ubiquitous, Grease was all over the telly, Grease badges hung from denim jackets at and above my eyeline. Grease was indeed the word but that word was also phenomenon. I assumed that the cinema must represent some viral hub of cultural domination whereby the movie playing that week also had to have three songs in the top ten, an accompanying album and an array of beautiful cast members splattered across TV commercials, newscasts and radio interviews. It will come as no surprise to you that when the Boomtown Rats went to number one on the music charts a few weeks later I had no desire to see their movie, ugly and dirty as it would undoubtedly be. And while we are talking about confused kids, don’t even get me started on my brother who used to burst into tears every time Olivia Newton John ended the song ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ by placing her hands in the water she sat beside, thus erasing the reflection of John Travolta that she had been serenading. My brother couldn’t tell you at the time why he was crying, he would simply say “it’s so sad”, but I know why he was crying. He hadn’t been brought to the movies yet and as such, had not been introduced to the seascape of grand gestures and windswept emotions that teach us if nothing else, a sense of the dramatic and maybe a whiff of the overcooked. I worked hard this weekend to trace his first film and finally it all makes sense…Luke, I am your brother.

 So in closing, I leave you with a few questions. What was your first film and how old were you? Maybe more interestingly, what was your second film? And, if you can’t really remember, then what effects do you think Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After are really having on the three year old sat next to you? Maybe our parents were right to wait.

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Posted in: Film